The future of sprinting – Tina Clayton and Erriyon Knighton

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AW readers’ choice international U20 athletes of the year Tina Clayton and Erriyon Knighton have underlined their sprinting prowess in 2022 and are intent on following in illustrious footsteps

Cast your minds back to the 100m and 200m finals at the London 2012 Olympics. On the men’s side, Usain Bolt took the plaudits in both while Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Allyson Felix reached the top of the women’s sprint podiums. 

While all of that adrenaline-filled action was going on, in Clarendon, Jamaica and Tampa, Florida both Tina Clayton and Erriyon Knighton were youngsters still getting used to being at primary school, let alone thinking about careers in sport. However, both now share those same dreams and ambitions as the aforementioned greats of the track. 

The duo, voted AW’s international junior athletes of the year, are 18 and have experienced rises in the sport as rapid as their speed over the ground.

Clayton is a double world under-20 100m and 4x100m champion while Knighton became the youngest ever individual sprint medallist in World Championships history when he landed 200m bronze in Eugene this summer.

They have torn records apart, too. When Clayton clocked a 100m personal best of 10.95 at the World Under-20 Championships, it also represented a Jamaican under-20 mark. She was also part of the Jamaican 4x100m team which set the world under-20 4x100m record of 42.94. 

Knighton stole the headlines with a truly stunning season opener of 19.49 – a time that broke the under-20 world record and now places him fifth on the all-time list – but he backed it up with that major medal in Oregon and then a Diamond League win in Brussels. 

The next generation has well and truly arrived. 

Tina Clayton (Marta Gorczynska for World Athletics)

Being Jamaican, Clayton understands her country’s history and association with sprinting. Such has been their dominance, she was just four days old the last time the Olympic women’s 100m title wasn’t claimed by either Fraser-Pryce or Elaine Thompson-Herah.

 “I believe I will be very successful,” Clayton tells AW. “To know that Jamaica finished one, two, three in the 100m at the World Championships is a huge motivation, so when I grow up I can be a part of that as well. It drives me forward and gives me hunger when I train so I can achieve that kind of success.

“They have set big examples for the young generations. We look up to them and want to be like them. It takes a lot of determination, blood sweat and tears to get to that kind of success.”

Knighton, who had looked at one stage like being an American football player rather than a sprinter, also knows his history. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson is no easy task but neither is facing his compatriot Noah Lyles, who won the world 200m crown and broke Johnson’s 26-year-old US record of 19.32 in the process at Hayward Field. 

The teenager, however, has global dominance in mind. 

“Until I get a world record and a couple of gold medals next to my name I’m not going to be satisfied,” says the man who last year became the USA’s youngest male track and field Olympian since 1964. “Everybody is going to think about it [breaking Usain Bolt’s 200m world record of 19.19]. He was the guy who set the standard and I feel like everybody is now thinking about setting a new standard. I think it’s possible [to break the world record]. I’ve just got to stick to what I’m doing in training and believe in myself. 

“I’m trying to be like one of the greats in the US like Jesse [Owens] and Michael [Johnson]. All the sprinters from my generation grew up watching Usain Bolt, though, because he was so dominant. That’s what the people loved. If I want to emulate them then I have just got to dominate my decade.” 

Erriyon Knighton (World Athletics)

What is so impressive from both Clayton and Knighton is that both understand their exploits will be followed by expectation but neither shies away from it. Notably, however, neither uses social media to the same extent as their peers. An ability to switch off from the noise clearly has a positive effect and they acknowledge the significance of sending their biggest messages on the track. 

“If you don’t have the confidence in yourself you will be defeated before the race,” Clayton says. “You have to see yourself as a winner already before you go out there. You have to put your mind above things you think you can’t do. 

“You will have things that set you back and make you feel like you want to give up but you have to believe in yourself and your coach. I now have to set new goals. Part of those is just to remain focused, train well and believe in God.” 

Knighton, who turned professional as a 16-year-old, is of a similar opinion. 

“I’m just super-focused at my job. People in the track world expect me to be smiling on the scene and happy about everything I do. You know, sub-20 for an 18-year-old every week is not regular! 

“I think what’s affecting youngsters right now is the internet because everyone is on it all the time. You get athletes who, right before the race, are on Instagram and I’m not really like that. I’ll be listening to music from the elevator at the hotel to the warm-up area at the track.

“We’re all human so I do care what people think [about me]. But I won’t say words actually hurt me as I don’t care what a person says. I just go out there and perform and I get them to like me.”

Erriyon Knighton (Getty)

Clayton and Knighton grew up in environments which didn’t immediately lead to a career in track and field. In Jamaica, Clayton really only started running seriously towards the latter end of school.

She started off as a 200m runner but, like her twin sister Tia – who was also part of the Jamaican 4x100m under-20 world record team – converted to the 100m. In the space of five years, her personal best has now dropped from 12.12 to 10.95. 

It could have all been so different for Knighton. There was that stint with American football, as well as trying out basketball before, as he puts it, being “forced into track and field” by his football coach, who had spotted the youngster’s turn of speed. 

Now he, like Clayton, is being mentioned in the same breath as the greats of track and field. Both appear to take it all in their swift strides.

“Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is my role model,” Clayton says of the five-time 100m world champion. “She’s a great example for everybody and has shown that you can have the right mindset but it’s not all about winning. Sometimes you will go out and lose and not do well, where you get questions from people who don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. 

“She has shown to the younger generation that you can believe in your goals. I’ve achieved a lot already and I look up to her.” 

For every article written about Knighton, Bolt’s name is not far away, but the emerging star is proud to be associated alongside the great man – even if he was not an immediate source of inspiration.

“When I first started running track everyone was looking at Usain Bolt,” says the American. “I can tell you right now, I didn’t actually want to be like him growing up but, for me, it’s an honour to be in the same sentence as him because he was just so great. He’s been doing it ever since I’ve been alive.

“A lot of people have said I just run off skill right now so now the hard work begins.”

It may well be that, ultimately, these two teenagers end up being held in similar reverence to these illustrious names. Whatever happens, it will be fun watching. 


Tina Clayton – Jamaica

Born: August 17, 2004

PBs: 100m 10.95; 200m 23.30


2022: World Under-20 Championships 100m

and 4x100m gold

2021: World Under-20 Championships 100m

and 4x100m gold

Erriyon Knighton – United States

Born: January 29, 2004

PBs: 100m 10.04; 200m 19.49


2022: World Championships 200m bronze; Brussels Diamond League first

2021: Olympic 200m fourth

» This article first appeared in the December issue of AW magazine

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